Thin end of the wedge

I have been studying the proposal relating to the future of the secondary department of Scalloway School, and struggling to find any merits for its closure at all; the document unwittingly makes a strong case for quite the reverse not only by what it said, but more by what it failed to say.

Educationally, in terms of standard grade attainment and HMI inspectorate reports, Scalloway has nothing to prove and is up there with the best, the result of a modern school with all key facilities to hand, and one which offers a wide range of courses while also allowing a degree of flexibility impossible to mimic in larger units. As a former teacher, colleagues from other parts of Shetland regularly said we had space and versatility that were their envy. Smaller year groups facilitates easy liaison with the wider community whether it be related to field trips, sports events, visits to local businesses, or co-operation with the North Atlantic Fisheries College and Shetland College. This provides a more rounded education, with pupils better developing their own individual identities. Furthermore, there has been much media coverage with regard to the new Curriculum for Excellence currently being introduced – the HMI inspectors are on record as stating that the junior high model with its interlinking between the primary (feeder) pupils and secondary “provides an ideal model for such a scheme to flourish”.

I find the financial arguments equally strained. The bulk of the running costs are the teaching salaries yet no teachers are to be made redundant. There will still be key overheads to keep the vacated school in good condition such as heating, cleaning, maintenance and rates. I see no mention of depreciation, which is a real (if not obvious) cost. The apparent “savings” will be relatively small and make a very minor dent in the education budget. And the use of a fleet of buses hardly satisfies green values. This proposed closure is no more than a pointless exercise in political expediency.

Much more worrying is the fact that Scalloway pupils are going to be uprooted to a school which by its own admission has buildings whose fabric is dubious, limited dining and social areas and has to bus pupils to Clickimin for various PE activities. Access and parking was a shambles even in the 60s when I was a pupil, and now there will be another fleet of buses. It needs another 120 pupils like a hole in the head. Anderson High parents and teachers alike will be extremely perplexed to hear that their new school will not now be ready for (at least) another 7 years, while the present problems will only get worse.

But here is the real sting in the tail – and all rural councillors should now pay attention. If the closure goes ahead, there will be a half empty school with 20 pristine classrooms just begging to be used. With Tingwall and Hamnavoe schools a mere 10-minute bus journey away, their subsequent closure will be virtually guaranteed as the economic squeeze progresses. I would ask anyone in authority to refute this – a straightforward yes or no will do!

Closing the secondary department will not only result in the worst of both worlds for Scalloway and Anderson High pupils, but will also be the thin end of the wedge for virtually all the small rural schools in Shetland.

Alec Henry


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